Updated on May 22, 2021

Cruelty-free vs. Vegan – What’s the Difference?

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The terms “cruelty-free” and “vegan” have grown increasingly popular in just the last couple of years as consumer demand for animal cruelty-free cosmetics rises and the influx of new cosmetic products touting the “cruelty-free” and “vegan” labels from both indie and mainstream brands. But did you know there’s a difference between cruelty-free and vegan?

The two labels are often used interchangeably, by both companies and consumers, but they actually don’t mean the same thing.

It can be confusing trying to navigate through the cruelty-free and vegan beauty space but let me help break it down for you.

What’s the difference between cruelty-free vs vegan? Short Answer: “Cruelty-Free” generally implies no animal testing occurred whereas “Vegan” generally implies the products do not contain any animal-derived ingredients or by-products.

A product can be both, or one but not the other. This is a concept I’m going to dive in deeper with real-life examples down below.

Quick note, I’m using the term ‘generally’ here because this is generally how the beauty industry uses these two labels. If it was up to me and I got to make up the rules, I wouldn’t classify something as being vegan if it was tested on animals (cruelty-free). But unfortunately, I don’t make the rules so it’s important we learn and stay informed on how the industry and companies are using these labels today.

What’s the Difference: Cruelty-Free and Vegan?

Let’s start with some fun venn diagrams (remember those?)

Remember, the label “cruelty-free” means = this product and its ingredients were not tested on animals. And the label “vegan” means = this product does not contain animal products or ingredients.

We’ll start with the basics, when a product is labelled as both “cruelty-free and vegan”

Cosmetics claiming to be cruelty-free and vegan

Can something be called cruelty-free AND vegan

When a product claims to be both ‘cruelty-free and vegan’, it means it was not tested on animals and it does not contain animal products or ingredients.

Real life example: Pacifica Beauty has a cruelty-free and vegan lipstick. This means the lipstick from Pacifica was not tested on animals and does not contain any animal-derived ingredients or by-products.


Cosmetics claiming to be cruelty-free, but not vegan

Can something be cruelty-free but NOT vegan?

If a product claims to be ‘cruelty-free but not vegan’, it means the product was not tested on animals but it does contain some animal-derived ingredients or by-products.

Real life example: Milani Cosmetics has a cruelty-free lipstick but it is not vegan. This means the lipstick from Milani was not tested on animals, but it does contain some animal-derived ingredients or by-products like beeswax, carmine, or lanolin.


Now this leaves us with the last option,

Cosmetics that are vegan, but not cruelty-free

Can something be vegan but NOT cruelty-free?

Here’s where it gets a little confusing and counter-intuitive. But bear with me.

Products that claim to be ‘vegan’ but may not be ‘cruelty-free’ means the product does not contain animal products or animal-derived ingredients but sadly, the products or their ingredients may have been tested on animals.

Real-life example: In 2017, L’Oreal’s EverPure Shampoo and Conditioners were spotted with a ‘100% Vegan’ stamp on the packaging. L’Oreal claims these products are ‘vegan’ in which they don’t contain animal-derived ingredients or by-products, but L’Oreal is definitely not a cruelty-free brand. L’Oreal does test on animals when required by law. (See the end of the post for more info on L’Oreal’s animal testing policy)

L'Oreal claims their Ever hair products are 100% vegan, but L'Oreal is not cruelty-free.
L’Oreal claims their Ever hair products are 100% vegan, but L’Oreal is not cruelty-free.

Isn’t it Illegal for Brands to Lie About Being Cruelty-Free/Vegan?

How is L’Oreal able to make claims of being “vegan” and “cruelty-free” when they’re not? and can’t they be sued for lying to us? I hear ya.

Sadly, there is no standard or legal definitions for the labels “cruelty-free” and “vegan”. This means companies can use these labels in whichever way they like without any consequences or liability. This is why it’s important we stay informed on what these labels mean and who may be misleading or deceiving us.

If you’re thinking, ain’t nobody got time for dat! then you’ll be happy to hear that there are currently 4 certifying organizations who all audits and accredits companies/products that are both cruelty-free and vegan. When you spot their logos on a product packaging, it means the issuing organization has verified that this product/company does not test on animals and do not use animal products or animal-derived in their products.

List of Cruelty-free and Vegan Certifications for Cosmetics

For further reading on what each of these logos and other “cruelty-free” and “vegan” logos and claims mean, check out this post here that explains it all!


Note on L’Oreal: L’Oreal products are sold throughout mainland China where animal testing is required by law for all imported cosmetics. Although L’Oreal can make claims that they are not conducting these animal tests themselves, but they are consenting and paying the Chinese authorities to test on their behalf in order to sell within their country. L’Oreal is not considered cruelty-free by our standards.

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What do you think

30 thoughts on “Cruelty-free vs. Vegan – What’s the Difference?”

  1. Hello,

    I am writing in hopes that you please revise this website.

    Any product which is certified vegan, must not have been tested on animals, pre- OR post-market. In other words, neither the producer, nor various 3rd-party suppliers, are permitted to test vegan products on animals. Juice Beauty, for instance, is 100% certified vegan. That means that they would not sell to any supplier, a country such as China, for instance, because its government would require animal testing.

    So, to sum it up, you can have a cruelty free company whose products contain animal byproducts. But vegan products are always cruelty free.

    1. Hi Jamie,

      Yes, *certified* vegan products are both not tested on animals and do not contain any animal ingredients.

      But not all vegan products are *certified*. To become certified is a voluntary process that companies are not mandatory to undergo in order to label their products as “vegan”. If cosmetic companies wish to become *certified* vegan, then they must go through the process and register their products with an accompanying organization like Vegan Society, Vegan Action, or PETA. And once approved, these *certified* vegan products are deemed as not tested on animals AND do not contain animal products.

      This is a guide on how the cosmetics industry generally uses the term “cruelty-free” and “vegan”. And I’ve provided two solid real-life examples of L’Oreal and Garnier claiming their products are “vegan” when in fact, these two beauty brands DO test on animals.

      I get what you’re saying and agree with you but unfortunately, this isn’t how the cosmetics industry are using the labels “cruelty-free” and “vegan” and so the point of this post is to educate ethical shoppers so that they don’t get duped by brands like L’Oreal and Garnier who are trying to pass their products off as being “vegan” when they’re not since they DO currently test on animals.

    2. And also, Juice Beauty isn’t a certified vegan brand. Two of their products contains organic honey and/or beeswax and are not suitable for vegans.

      Juice Beauty is certfied cruelty-free but not certified vegan, as you claimed.

      1. Hi Vicky,

        Our company is interested in getting Cruelty free certification through PETA, but it have been very difficult the communication with them, it takes too long to get replay. Do you know somebody that have go through this process?

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